You've probably heard a lot about healthy eating from your parents and teachers. Choosing healthy foods is important because these foods have lots of nutrients that help you grow, be strong, and avoid getting sick. Everyone needs a balanced diet that includes lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats and proteins. Just because you're eating healthy, though, doesn't mean that you can't enjoy your meals.
Vegetables are packed with nutrients like vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, and fiber. Not only are vegetables very nutritious, but they are also low in calories, fat, and cholesterol. Eating lots of vegetables each day helps your body form red blood cells, helps your eyes and skin be healthier, helps keep your teeth and gums healthy, and helps you maintain healthier blood pressure. Vegetables that are high in fiber help fill you up and keep you full longer, too.
People who eat more fruits can often avoid serious chronic illnesses because fruits are high in vitamins, potassium, folate, and dietary fiber. When you add fruits to your diet every day, you can keep your blood pressure lower and your heart healthier. The vitamin C in fruits helps keep teeth and gums healthy, helps repair body tissues, and helps heal wounds. Fiber in fruits helps you feel full, which may mean that you eat less.
It's important to eat whole grains every day. In fact, about half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. When you eat whole grains, you're giving your body fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and plant-based proteins. Whole grains are grains that still have all of the parts of the kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. When you eat refined grains, some of the bran or germ is stripped away, so the grain is much less healthy. Eating whole grains with lots of fiber helps you feel full longer, helps control blood sugar, and can lower bad cholesterol levels. The highest-fiber whole grains are bulgur, barley, and oats.
Getting enough protein is very important for overall health. Your body needs protein to rebuild muscles, cartilage, and skin and to repair tissues. Eating enough protein also makes sure that your red blood cells have a protein in them that helps carry oxygen throughout your body. Protein helps regulate hormones in the body, and it also helps the body make enzymes that help with digestion and with making new cells.
You've probably heard that fats are bad for you and that you should limit the amount of fat you eat. Saturated fats are fats that look solid when they're at room temperature, and unsaturated fats are oils. While you need both types of fats, you should have more unsaturated than saturated fats. Fats provide calories that help your body store energy. Fats can also help your body absorb some nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Special omega-3 fats help with brain, heart, and nerve function. Trans fats are another type of fat that is artificial; your body doesn't need or want trans fats.
Dairy products like milk and yogurt help your body build and keep strong bones. Dairy products also contain important nutrients like vitamins A and D, calcium, and phosphorus. People who get enough dairy in their diets tend to have healthier bones that are stronger and denser. Some of the minerals in dairy products, such as potassium and magnesium, help maintain healthy blood pressure, and dairy products can be a main source of potassium, too.
Leading an active lifestyle helps you look and feel good. When you're active every day, you'll find that you have more energy, and you'll probably sleep better at night, too. Kids need exercise just as much as adults do. Kids from preschool through the teenage years should get at least 60 minutes of exercise every day. While this might sound like a lot, it can be easy to get this in. Just playing outdoors on playground equipment is often enough to get your heart pumping. Playing actively with friends is also a great way to get your exercise in every day.
When you decide that you want to make some healthy changes in your lifestyle, you might be surprised to learn that even small changes can have big results. You don't have to focus on health and worry about it all the time. Just try to make healthier food choices by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products and proteins. Make sure that you're being active every day in fun ways, too. And on those special occasions when you want to treat yourself to a piece of cake or a doughnut, go ahead and don't worry about it. Everyone enjoys a treat sometimes, and if you eat a healthy diet most of the time, there's no harm done.